It may seem a phenomenon particular to us, but it’s so true: Nothing brings us together as a nation like an occasion for collective grief.
It happened when Ninoy was murdered on Aug. 21,1983; it moved us to prayer, then to a slow-burning indignation that at its height saw us three years later massing in common purpose and, still, in prayer, on Edsa. From there, by people power, without drawing any blood, we drove out the dictator, dismantled his martial-law regime, and installed Ninoy’s widow, Cory, as our democratic president.
Cory herself never stopped praying—indeed, prayer seemed to her a singular, natural response to everything happening in her life, happy or tragic. And having become the nation’s matriarch, she rallied people to her cause even after her presidency. When we lost her to cancer, sooner than we were ready to let her go, she inspired an equal outpouring to that her martyred husband had.
We stood outside the cathedral as the funeral Mass was said, stood in the pouring rain, to say our final goodbye. More of us orphans lined the streets as her cortege passed.
I never thought another public grieving would happen so soon. A week ago yesterday, Jesse Robredo, Secretary for the Interior and Local Government, went missing after his troubled plane plunged into the sea. It was his own Appointment in Samarra, set by the one great irresistible force he had himself acknowledged in life—heaven’s “roll call,” as he termed it.
The nation hoped and prayed and has continued praying even after the finality of his loss arrived—his body was found on the fourth day, and with his death comes an end to a dream that began with his kinship with Noynoy. Jesse was very much a part of his presidency, one that has rekindled our hope for a national renewal.
In the feeling of helplessness that accompanies grief, helpless grievers discover in companionship, in bereavement and prayer their own inner strengths to carry on. And so, for our own sakes, we went to the Mass for Jesse at the De La Salle University chapel across town, in San Juan City.
At Mass, I looked around and felt consoled to note how young and reputedly untainted and un-calloused our present government servants were, just like Jesse and the president himself who had handpicked them. But then again, neither youth nor idealism is any insurance against an early death.
It was difficult to stay dry-eyed watching the video of Jesse that preceded the Mass, to see him so dedicated to his family, so committed to his constituents, so hardworking, so full of energy, so alive. Not having met him, I felt an aching void in my heart.
I remembered the teachings of wise saints long before organized churches came to be. From them I have learned to recognize the relationship between grief and love whenever the pain of loss strikes, and tears well up: that pain, those tears are themselves manifestations of love. That changed everything for me, and I take the tragedy of Jesse Robredo in that light.
At Mass, the celebrant, a young Jesuit townmate of Jesse’s, said: “We honor the saints not on the day they were born but on the day they died.”
It was on Aug. 21 that Ninoy died, the same day Jesse’s death was confirmed by the discovery of his body. It must have been particularly hard for the president, who already had had more than his share of personal losses even before that of Jesse compounded them.
He has not spoken publicly. He chose to miss the Mass commemorating his father’s martyrdom to be with Jesse: He was bringing him home. His grief was his own desperate manifestation of love for friend and country.
Though definitely presumptuous to compare our own desperation, our own grief, our own love with his, these we feel sharply, collectively, as a nation in great debt to an especially good man.